J. Cole doesn’t need anyone to tell him that 2014 is his year. “Every year people tell me that it’s ‘my year,’ but this time I know it’s true,” he tells us. “I feel like I can accomplish anything. It’s a good feeling.”
The rapper and producer has good reason for feeling confident. His album, “Born Sinner,” was named one of the best albums of 2013 by Rolling Stone. Released the same day as Kanye West’s “Yeezus,” Cole outsold West and surpassed him on the Billboard charts.
“Being able to say your album sold more than the Kanye West album is a crazy statement, and I’m a very big Kanye fan,” Cole says. “It shows that if you give people the option to choose, they’re going to choose ‘Born Sinner.’ That’s just the truth and it feels amazing.”
Cole pairs his ability as a producer and lyricist on “Born Sinner” with collaborations with Kendrick Lamar, Miguel, Dirty Projector’s singer Amber Coffman, 50 Cent and TLC, who sing the hook on the album’s single, “Crooked Smile.” Despite all the big names, Cole says he never had a wish list of artists he was hoping to work with. “It happened in the flow of creating the music. Like with ‘Crooked Smile,’ I thought, ‘Oh man, I would love to hear TLC sing this right here. That would be crazy.’ I thought it would be impossible, but it all worked out.”
With Jay Z standing behind him, Cole shouldn’t have been surprised. Jay Z has been mentoring Cole from the beginning of his career, and their relationship has morphed from a business relationship to one of equals. “Now, I have the confidence of knowing what I’m doing and I don’t need approval. I love Jay Z’s guidance and I get it when I want it, but I know how to survive in this game,” Cole says.
Beyond the brag-worthy connections and album sales, Cole says the heart of why he makes music is in the lyrics. “I want to change the way people look at themselves,” he says simply. His attempts at this come across in songs like “Crooked Smile,” “Losing My Balance” and “Lights Please,” which Cole says were all crafted to be subtle, not preachy. “I learned a long time ago to be somebody that people can relate to and then slip in the messages I want,” he explains. “I want to change the way people feel about themselves not just on a physical level, but the way black people look at themselves, or women look at themselves, or the concept of beauty — whatever it is.”
When asked if there was anything that did that for him, Cole only credits his mom, who he says unwaveringly supported him in everything he wanted to do. “When I was a kid, I painted this Nike sign on a brown board with these watercolors she got me. Looking back, it was terrible, but her reaction to it at the time was as if it was the greatest thing she’d ever seen and she was so proud of me. I don’t think my mom realizes the effect her support had on me. She let me quietly believe I could move to New York and go to college, while at the same time pursuing my music dream.”
Now Cole is set to play at The Theater at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 28, and he says the show will be a defining moment for him. “It signifies the end of my tour and the beginning of a whole new chapter in my career as an artist who has earned his stripes and gained the confidence in the process,” he says. The concert marks the beginning of what is promising to be another stellar year for Cole — but then again, he already knows.
The Theater at Madison Square Garden
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